The seven-time world champion dropped to 19th after picking up a puncture in a first-lap collision with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, before mounting an incredible recovery drive to finish fifth at Barcelona

After finding himself 30 seconds adrift of the pack following his early pit stop, Hamilton admitted he initially doubted that such a result was possible. 

“I am so happy,” Hamilton said after the race. “I was hoping for a smoother race without the issue at the beginning. I was 30 seconds behind last at one stage. 

“Having seen what it was like back in Jeddah where I started 15th and struggled to get into the top ten, I was thinking this is impossible to get back into the points but they said no I was on for eighth. 

“I couldn't understand it and thought they were definitely being super optimistic. But I thought let's give it everything and see where I come out. 

“Turns out it was higher than eighth, a little unfortunate at the end with the engine but I am glad we finished.” 

Hamilton even suggested Mercedes should retire his car in order to preserve his engine amid concerns about a potential grid drop later in the season. 

Asked about his plea over team radio to “save the engine”, Hamilton replied: “I was 30 seconds behind so I thought if I am going to use a whole engine to drive around in last or out of the top 15 and at some point take a penalty, I thought we may as well save the engine so we can live to fight another day. 

“Thank god we didn't, that is why we never stop we never give up and that's what I did.” 

Having swept past Carlos Sainz for fourth, Hamilton lost the position to the Ferrari driver on the penultimate lap after being told to lift-and-coast by Mercedes because he had a water leak on his car. 

Speaking to Sky, Hamilton said the late issue forced him to drive at “half-throttle” during the closing laps. 

"It was a lot hotter than predicted today and it’s quite tough with these cars,” he explained. 

“I don’t know exactly went on with the car, I’ve not spoken with the team because I’ve been elsewhere. 

“But I had to basically just drive it at half-throttle and lots of lifting down the straights just to try and get fresh air into the engine to try and cool it down.” 

‘Hamilton had pace to win’ - Wolff 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff felt that Hamilton could have challenged for victory without the first-lap contact, given the remarkable speed he had demonstrated during his comeback charge through the field. 

“It’s always the call when you’ve basically lost the race to decide, what’s the benefit of continuing,” Wolff said. 

“From a driver’s perspective you’re like, ‘that can’t be possible, I’m 50 seconds behind the leaders’. But it’s still valuable mileage, and we are never giving up anyway. 

“At the end his race pace was stunning. He would have raced for the win.

"I’m happy that we didn’t retire Lewis as that was the most valuable race for us to compare the two cars, to compare set-ups, and tyres.” 

Mercedes’ encouraging step forward was also demonstrated by George Russell’s impressive drive to third place on the podium, but Wolff says there is more to come from his team. 

"It’s better than expected because I’m always so pessimistic about things,” he added. “We’ve played clear from the midfield, at least in Barcelona, and caught up by half a second to the frontrunners. 

“We were a second off and now it’s half a second and there’s more to come, more understanding now which we can unlock in the car, I’m sure about that.”